Thursday, November 30, 2006
And what of the cd? It's great... really, really good, and worth a waiting for. Sadly there wasn't a cd last year, but its back this year, and as good as ever!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
But it is 14 years to the day when I became a Christian. It was the last night of a mission held in our church, during the Decade of Evangelism. The visiting preacher and evangelist was Neil (or Neal) Steadman, from Cumbria. I had been involved in the dramas and youth elements of the mission, and on that last night, Sunday 29th November 1992, he asked people to stand if they had been affected by the week, or had made a decision.
And I stood.
I'm not saying that by standing up I was made a Christian - it was only an outward symbol of what was happening inside, a declaration of sorts. But it definitely happened. No longer was I trusting in myself. I was trusting in Jesus and his cross. No longer did I think I could be good enough for God, and do enough good things for him, or that he would accept me for my goodness. I was trusting in Jesus and his cross, and what God in Christ did for me.
Fourteen years. A long time. I'm not saying I always get it right. I'm not saying it has been a perfect discipleship. I still mess up and get things wrong. And still struggle.
But God who has started a good work in me will bring it to completion. Amen - because I couldn't do it on my own!
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back. No turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back. No turning back.
Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
No turning back. No turning back.
Stanley and Sarah - on the same day as we got engaged - how freaky was that?
Bryan and Louise. (Bryan and me are looking forward to being joined in matrimony - to quote James.)
Lorna and Colin.
Pamela and Paul.
And now Primrose and Dan. This is the big news this week, and I'm so chuffed for you two!!!
Congratulations to all the couples above.
Now, I wonder if there'll be any more before the end of the year???
Monday, November 27, 2006
You may recall my last run-in with the wildlife - when I met a badger on the Dromara Road in August... my poor car horn hasn't been the same since. The 'asthmatic horn' to quote Lynsey, James and Standeley...
Anyways, the odd time I have to travel down the Garvaghy Road on my way to Dublin. But don't worry, it's not a coat-trailing sectarian thing... it's the Garvaghy Road in BT32, between Dromore / Waringsford / Banbridge. Neil's boss lives there, and his time sheets are delivered there...
So last night I was going up the road, when suddenly a fox leaped up onto a garden wall (from the house and garden), bounced on top of the wall, jumped out into the road in front of me, and flew into the hedge...
Sunday, November 26, 2006
My sermon (see below) didn't really mention the Mothers Union as such. I prefer to preach from the Scriptures, with its message for all in church, not just the specific few getting enrolled... hence the message on Christ the King from Daniel 7.
And then it was into the jiggery pokery, with promises and handshakes and hugs etc...
So the Dromore Cathedral Branch of the Mothers Union have been enrolled for another year of whatever they get up to! (No doubt their head woman, Mrs McFarland, will put me right on this when she gets around to reading this!!!)
The Ancient of Days and the Son of Man: A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 26th November 2006. Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 (RCL Reading)
Is there anyone in charge of the world? Can the kingdoms – or empires of today do as they wish? Is there any higher authority which can decide what is fair?
The Book of Daniel is a popular one for Christians. It is, after all, a rich mine of stories for Sunday School, and for the rest of us as well. There we find Daniel in the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Yet these stories, and others, are found in the first half of the book – up to chapter six.
It might well be as far as we get when we read it through – before we encounter strange visions of beasts and creatures, kings and angels. When we reach chapter seven, then, most of us either struggle through, not really understanding what we’re reading, or else consigning it to oblivion or the conspiracy theorists who seek to interpret the prophecies for us.
However, with these few words of introduction, we find that our Old Testament reading today is from Daniel 7. What should we do? Will we ignore it, or will we work at it, to see what God is saying through his word?
Sadly, the lectionary – or rather, the people who design the lectionary – have chosen to give us only a few verses of Daniel 7 for our reading. If you have a Bible with you, you’ll find it useful to look at Daniel 7. And if not, then try and bring a Bible in future!
As the chapter opens, Daniel first notes that he had a vision, then he begins to describe it. Here we find the strange beasts we talked about earlier – one like a lion with eagle’s wings (4); another like a bear (5); another like a leopard (6), and the fourth which isn’t described – except that it is ‘terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong’ (7). From this fourth beast, there comes ten horns, and then another which has a mouth ‘speaking great things’ (8) – or as the NIV puts it, ‘a mouth that spoke boastfully.’
Is your imagination running wild? Are you picturing these strange beasts? What could they be? Thankfully, we are not left on our own to decide what these beasts and horns could be. Later in the chapter, Daniel is granted the explanation. The beasts, from verse 17, are ‘four kings who shall arise out of the earth.’ That is, these beasts are kingdoms, or empires. The horns, then, are ten kings who arise in the last kingdom – with another king coming after them.
It is as the great king of the fourth kingdom speaks boastfully, that we arrive at the start of our reading. In the midst of all the political dealings and empire building on earth, then, ‘thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.’
While the drama of the earth takes place, with its pomp and politics, another ruler is seated on the throne high above. The ‘Ancient of Days’. Who could this be? Surely this is God Almighty himself.
Notice the glory of the Ancient of Days – his clothing as white as snow, and his hair like pure wool. His throne is fiery flames, and its wheels were burning flame. Truly, Hebrews 12:29 can tell us ‘our God is a consuming fire’. Do you see the purity, the holiness of God? His clothes being white as snow – cleaner than Daz or Surf could ever get them, and fire – that which purifies and refines? The fire even issues out in a stream before him.
Yet he is not alone – we see here a glimpse of the throne-room of God, the centrepiece of heaven, where ‘a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand time ten thousand stood before him.’ What a vast number of angels, standing before him and serving him.
But notice that it is not just the throne-room of heaven we see here. Nor is it just the place where the worship takes place. Further, it is a court room. ‘The courts sat in judgement, and the books were opened.’ Our God who rules, our holy God who receives the worship of thousands and thousands, is also the God of justice – sitting in judgement in the highest high court.
And what is the judgement? These are the verses we missed from the middle of the reading – but the judgement is against the boasting beast, and the other beasts. The kingdoms of this world, and the nations are under the judgement of God – yes, to us now the government may seem impressive and all-powerful, as they make laws for us and affect our lives in so many ways. Yet they are under the ultimate authority and judgement of God.
Yet Daniel’s vision isn’t over. There is more to be seen, and to be thought about. I said earlier that the Ancient of Days was not alone, and that was true – after all, the thousands of angels are present with him. And yet, there was someone missing. In verse 9 we noted that thrones were set in place… yet only the Ancient of Days sat down. There is an empty throne. Who would fill it?
Suddenly, Daniel sees the only possible candidate. ‘Behold, with the clouds of heaven, then came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.’ To us, as we read these words, it is obvious who they point to. After all, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses it to describe himself 28 times. There, he speaks of the ‘Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28), and when asking the disciples who they think he is, uses the title ‘Son of Man’ (Matt 16:13).
The phrase points to the humanity of Jesus – as can be seen if you even browse the book of Ezekiel – the phrase is used there 93 times, to describe Ezekiel – as God talks to him, calling him ‘son of man.’
And what happens to the Son of Man, the man, who is presented before the Ancient of Days? Will he also be consumed with fire from the throne? Will he be judged by the Almighty Judge?
No! Rather, ‘to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’
The vacant throne is taken, given to this Son of Man by the Ancient of Days. He shares in the glory of God, as he shares in the reign of the universe. Notice that all peoples, nations and languages will serve him – this Son of Man claims the allegiance of all people, whether they choose to worship him or not.
Our passage this morning has echoes of Philippians 2 – even as we see the contrast. The boastful king of the fourth kingdom was cut down in judgement, whereas Jesus, the humble king, was exalted and glorified. ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:9-11).
Notice also, that this kingdom, once taken by the son of man – by Jesus – isn’t going to pass away like the kingdoms of earth. With the judgement of God in verses 11 and 12, the power of the empires was taken away. Or, in more recent history, think of the British Empire – that proud institution which lasted so long, and covered so much of the earth. It too has now all but vanished.
But the kingdom of Christ ‘is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’ As our New Testament reading in Revelation 1 tells us, the kingdom has arrived – Christ is enthroned and reigning. The everlasting dominion has begun, and will not end. It is here to stay.
The question and challenge this morning is therefore – what will you do with this son of man? Do you recognise Jesus as your king? Or will you reject him as king now, living as you please? Because, either way, as Philippians reminds us, every knee will bow and every tongue confess him as king. As the song ‘come, now is the time to worship’ reminds us –
‘One day every tongue will confess you are God,
One day every knee will bow,
Still the greatest treasure remains
For those who gladly choose you now.’
The kingdoms and powerful nations of earth are not all powerful. There is one who is judging and ruling over them. That one is the son of man, who took the throne with the Ancient of Days. Will you submit to his rule, and come into his kingdom today?
Saturday, November 25, 2006
But how, I hear you say... well, the final three miles of the Loughbrickland to Beech Hill A1 Dual Carriageway project has been completed, the speed restrictions have been lifted, and the dual carriageway is ready to roll.
Not bad, although it was originally planned to be completed by Summer 2006, so it's just slightly late...
I now can't wait until the full cross-border dual carriageway / motorway scheme is complete - giving me a clear run of dual carriageway (and thus overtaking opportunity) the whole way from Dromore to Dublin!
So what is it, I hear you say. Love Your Neighbourhood is an outreach project, where members of the parish knock on every door in the two villages, give them a special free gift, as well as information about church and inviting them to come along. If possible, we got talking to the people, but if not, then we left the stuff in their letterbox.
Last Easter, the gift was creme eggs. This time, in the run-up to Christmas, the gift was a roll of sticky tape. What's that all about, I hear you say... Well, it's linked to Colossians 1:17 - 'He is before all things, and in him all things hold together'- obviously speaking of Jesus. It will also come in handy for people to do Christmas gift wrapping with.
So with a team of about 30 people, we started at about 10.30am and had Dollingstown done by 12.30pm, before lunchtime, and then down into Magheralin to blitz the village! I don't think I have knocked as many doors in the one day before - but really enjoyed it!
Who knows what the leaflets, and the 'random act of kindness' will achieve in the long run?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
to welcome Ian Hannah along, who spoke on the theme of prayer and worship. Ian
is the worship leader at St Patrick's Coleraine, and is also involved in the
worship at Summer Madness and New Horizon. After his talk, we went to the
Chapel for Sung Compline - perhaps the biggest crowd in recent times at it -
unfortunately I was leading. Think it went ok. After that, Ian led a time of
worhsip and prayer - putting into practice the model used at Engage24, a 24/7
worship event in Coleraine.
I'm really pleased that we have been able to get such good speakers this year at
CF, and am praying for the rest of the year's meetings, that we will be
similarly, and even more so, blessed!
Test, their vodka was chosen as best out of all the vodka samples.
Was that not a bit irresponsible of the New York Times to give so much alcohol
to blind people???
Monday, November 20, 2006
it up before, but might come to rely on it a bit more when in Dublin. Yes, it's
the old college wireless network problems again.
Now, the wireless seems to be working, but is rather very slow. Suppose with 40
odd people trying to get their emails all down the line and jumping into
mid-air at the same time, it's no wonder it's slow.
So this is the test, so see if my Trinity email account will blog - hotmail is
also very slow at loading up over the wireless, and the compose email page
never properly loads.
Oh, of course, the problem with blogging via email is that you can't add tags -
these will have to be added at a later date...
For now, it's back to the New Testament essay which is due on Friday. Fun, fun,
Sunday, November 19, 2006
However, it’s not just celebrities who claim our allegiance and worship. Our society is obsessed with money and wealth; getting and spending. The expectation is for us to join in the worship of wealth – so how do we react in the situation? Our friends, colleagues, families expect us to bow down and worship money, just like them. What will we do?
Our Old Testament reading tonight brings us to Babylon, during the time of the exile. The leading citizens of Jersualem had been carried off to Babylon, and the temple destroyed. What would the Jews do then? These people of God – without a temple, and so far from home – what would they do?
Would they merge into the surrounding culture, make themselves comfortable in Babylon, and start worshipping the Babylonian gods? Or would they maintain their faith and trust in God, despite being so far away?
Especially since the king, Nebuchadnezzar, had unveiled a new statue to be worshipped. The status was rather impressive – ninety feet high, nine feet wide, and made of gold. At the dedication ceremony, all the chief officials, rulers and civil servants were present.
The order came from the king that when the orchestra played – that whole big list of instruments – ‘the horn, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music’, then the people were to fall down and worship. If they decided not to worship, then they would be thrown into a blazing furnace (6).
Can you imagine a big crowd of people standing around the image? All waiting on the music? Think of some of the big gatherings of people we have seen recently - the Live Aid concerts, or …
And so, the music started, and the people fell down to worship. Right across the plain, people are prostrate… except for those three people still standing – so noticeable on the landscape. Who are the three? And what are they doing, still standing?
The three men are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – friends of Daniel, and fellow exiles. Already in the book of Daniel we have met them – in chapter one they also refused to eat the king’s meat which had been sacrificed to idols. And there they stand, in disobedience to the king’s command.
Straight away, some of the astrologers come up to the king to report what had happened. Ever since the Jews had come to Babylon, the astrologers weren’t keen on them – already, the astrologers had failed to interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two, while the Jew Daniel had done it. Later, they would fail Nebuchadnezzar with another dream, and also Belshazzar’s writing on the wall. So when they had this chance to get the Jews thrown into the furnace, they would take it. In doing so, they would also prove their own loyalty.
But notice, in verse 12 that the astrologers say ‘there are some Jews… who pay not attention to you’ – does this mean that other Jews were going along with the flow and worshipping? Were they encouraging the three to also bow down?
It’s here that our reading began tonight – with Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage. Who were these people to not be worshipping him and his gods? Did they not know that if they were in his culture, they should do as he did? So he has them brought before him, and gives them another chance. If they fall down and worship, well and good, But if not, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Notice the challenge he sets – ‘Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’ To Nebuchadnezzar, his image was obviously the most powerful god, because he was ruling. It seems to be a power play – if I’m king of this vast empire, then my gods must be more powerful than all the other gods.
For Nebuchadnezzar and his loyal followers, the question was obviously meant to be rhetorical – needing no answer… the answer was obviously no. No other god could rescue them from his hand.
What would you do, if you were in that situation? Facing a hostile, angry king who threatens death – horrible death in a furnace – if you don’t bow down. After all, how hard would it be to lie down on the ground for a minute or two? He wouldn’t know what you were thinking. And it would mean you could continue to serve God in the king’s service.
What did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do? They answered the king: ‘we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’
To Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge, they show their faith in God, believing God is able to rescue them and save them. The confrontation is set up. Nebuchadnezzar’s gods against God. But even more than that – the three go further. Even if our God doesn’t save us, we still won’t serve your gods.
This is no fair weather faith – which only lasts as long as things are going well. Here, in front of the king, the one who transported them so far from home and who wants to force them to worship other gods, they defy him, and declare their total trust in God. Even if God won’t save them miraculously – that’s his choice – they will still serve and worship only him.
You can see the blood vessels standing out on the head and neck of Nebuchadnezzar – he’s raging with these men. And so he acts out of his rage – the furnace is made seven times hotter, and the three will be thrown in.
To make sure they can’t escape, they are tied up – wearing all their clothes and blankets around them for good measure – to make sure there’s plenty of stuff to burn. The commentators seem to suggest that the furnace had one opening at the top, and another at the bottom. Into the top opening they are thrown, by the strongest, best soldiers in Babylon. Yet it is the soldiers who perish from the heat and the flames.
The three men find themselves in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar watches to make sure they are burned up. And as he watches intently, suddenly he gets a fright. The three men had been tied up, thrown in as if in a sleeping bag, yet now he can see them walking about freely, unharmed, and not only three – but a fourth as well!
The fourth looked like ‘a son of the gods.’ Who could this be? The son of the gods – later, in verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as an angel – the angel of the Lord. But some would see this as a pre-birth appearance of Christ, being present with his people in their trouble.
Nebuchadnezzar had set the challenge – what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? The three had answered that their God was able. Nebuchadnezzar now saw with his own eyes that this was so – their God had rescued them, but not only that, had been present with them in their trials.
As the king says himself, in paying tribute to God, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.’
So how does this apply for us today? Do you face pressures to conform to other people’s expectations – or to join with other people’s worship of celebrity or money or false idols? These idols which threaten to take the place of God.
How will you respond? Will you go with the flow, or will you go against it and stand your ground? We may not face the furnace – yet there are still consequences to our actions – maybe being isolated in work, or being thought of as eccentric…
In the midst of these trials, we find that God is with us – his angel was present with the three; his presence is with us. Maybe not saving us out of the trial immediately, but being with us in the trial.
And let’s pray that as we live for God, showing our faith by our actions, others will see, and give the praise to God, as Nebuchadnezzar also praised the Most High God.
So about a week ago, I finished my previous studies in James using BST, so decided to go to the Old Testament. Why not study Jeremiah? One of the major prophets, been a while since I've read him, why not? So I started it in the evenings...
Only to discover a few days later that Explore is also going through Jeremiah, although at a slightly slower pace. Is God trying to say something to me through Jeremiah???
As I've written about before, Jeremiah 1:5 is a great verse - it was my text for the Downes Oratory Prize last year - which made me slightly better off, financially!
5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Here we find the call of Jeremiah - but the hero of the episode is God! It is God who knew him before he formed him in the womb => even before he was a twinkle in his father's eye, God already knew him.
God knowing us might seem scary - if he even knows the secret, shameful things we do - but he knows us and loves us. Nothing that we can do can make him stop loving us.
God's foreknowledge of Jeremiah also led him to consecrate him. Jeremiah was set apart from before birth. He was appointed to the Lord's service. There was nothing else he could do. God had called and chosen him.
So does God only know Jeremiah? Or does he not also know you? What has God called and appointed you to do? You may not be the prophet to the nations, but you are still called to the Lord's service, to make his name known.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The reason I know this for sure, is that I have three weeks left of term down in Trinity and CITC, and then two weeks off before Christmas... oh, and two weeks after Christmas as well!
But the other reason we know Christmas is coming is because the shops have been full of Santa's and Christmas tress and even annoying music for weeks and weeks... Why does it seem to start earlier every year?
With all the focus on spending money and materialism, when will we actually see Christmas being remembered for what it's all about? How many people, in the rush and bustle of shopping remember the CHRIST of CHRISTmas?
How can we remind people of the true meaning?
This was the first event of its kind in Northern Ireland, but hopefully it will become an annual event, due to its success. All in all, about 200 ministers, pastors and preachers came together in St Saviour's Church to discuss and learn about preaching from two masters - Kent Hughes and David Jackman.
Hughes, I didn't know before then, but Jackman I had known from two summers in London at the student conferences. David Jackman presented a series of 'sharpening your skills' sessions, looking at the preparation of sermons, concentrating on what the text is saying, and how to communicate its message today. Kent Hughes dealt with the Bible itself, then with the heart of the preacher, as well as providing some reflections on his own ministry - tomorrow is his last Sunday after 27 years as pastor of his church in Chicago.
As well as the teaching from the front, the Assembly allowed plenty of time for networking, both renewing friendships and making new ones; and also to enjoy the great food on offer from the parishioners of Magheralin and Dollingstown!
Let's hope the event hapens again next year...
Friday, November 17, 2006
How hard could it be - the balls were waiting. We just had to whack them.
Due to the sunlight behind us, the photos might be a tad dark, but here we go... myself:
Sadly my photo of the Stanley Butchers won't load to Blogger, so here's the grand finale - the place you should seek to be minister of some day - Stanley Church!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
And quite a bit I could have been talking about - the Proc Trust Conference; having my ma in Dublin; last weekend in Scotland; and all else...
So look out for these topics being covered over the next few days... And let's hope my wireless gets working properly soon!!!
Monday, November 13, 2006
This is going to be a very short posting just to say that I got back from Scotland this morning, having got up at an awfully early hour, then spent the day at the Proc Trust Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly, before speaking at the Lisnasure Prayer Union in Magheralin... busy busy day, after a great weekend! A wee bit more thought and reports of the weekend will follow in due course - maybe tomorrow evening, but for now, it's off to bed.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The reason is that last night, not long before bed, I typed up a rather thoughtful blog on the whole area of Bible reading and leading services - related to some people sounding a bit droll or bored. I was rather pleased with it, perhaps one of my better bloggings.
And as I pressed send (without saving a copy in Word format - but why would you?), suddenly the network cut out. My posting, in all its glory, was lost to the realms of computer world, from where they do not return again...
Not to worry, I thought, as sometimes postings go through as the network is dodgy, and you find they were accepted, both in blogger and also on the forum I'm a part of. But it wasn't to be. The posting is lost forever.
I might try it again when I have some free time.
Right now, I'm packing to go to the airport to fly to Scotland for a special someone's birthday weekend! I can't wait!
And even better - no essay pressure this weekend, as the essays have been handed in for this week already, and there's two weeks until the next one is due. And that'll be it til after Christmas!
Monday and Tuesday will be the Proclamation Trust Nothern Ireland Ministry Assembly, in Dollingstown Church. More postings on this will follow, and maybe even some comment from my colleagues who attend...
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Except I didn't notice that I had already written by 500th posting... and my 501st was ranting about Old Testament studies, so didn't think it appropriate to talk about the blog on it. I had known the 500th was coming up, but didn't think I had written enough to actually reach it yet. Sunday's posting was the 500th item logged to the blog.
So this is the 502nd posting on my humble blog. Not bad going, in my humble opinion.
I just hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing...
Why not post a wee comment, telling us how reading this blog has changed your life... or else why you bother to keep coming back!
Here's to the next 500 postings!
I think I'm coming across that. This week I'm working on my Old Testament essay, particularly concentrating on Noth's thoughts on the origins of Israel. Immediately, he discounts most of the Old Testament record, except for a few 'traditional' elements which shine through edited and later material...
However, the thing I'm noticing is that in lots of places he says 'this is my assumptions' or surmising on this, or we cannot know for sure, or some such thing.
And mostly, on things that are abundantly clear and obvious in the Old Testament.
So does it actually take more faith for a liberal scholar to believe the theories of man than it does for a Christian to believe the Bible? I think so... Isn't that beyond beief?!
Sunday, November 05, 2006
And then it doesn't happen.
Given that we're now in 2006, I think it's fair to say that Colin Hoyle Deal, the author of the book, from Rutherford College in North Carolina got it horribly wrong. His book was pathetic, rather than prophetic. Jesus didn't return in 1988.
But why am I writing about it? Well, given the slagging I got last night about blogging from Dave, I thought I had to write something about yesterday... although I didn't do it last night. As you have probably gathered by now, my Saturdays are generally spent heading off to random places with mum, where she goes round the shops, and I have a wander about.
I like visiting charity shops (yeah, your wondering where my wardrobe came from have been resolved! or not...), to have a look at the books. Yesterday we were in Lisburn, then Larne and Carrickfergus. I picked up the book of the title up in Carrick, and instantly put it down. After all, why have it if it wasn't true? But then I thought, hmmm, this could be interesting! So the 50p asking price was handed over, and the book became mine, to join the library!
At some point I'll even get round to reading it... anyone want to help write a book explaining why Jesus will come back in 2020?
The Greatest Commandment - A sermon preached in Magheralin and Dollingstown on 5th November 2006. Mark 12:28-34
What do you make of the Old Testament Law? How do we view it today? Those laws about sacrificing animals or not wearing clothing of mixed fibres… What is it all about?
What is the most important commandment? Out of the first five books of the Old Testament, what is it that we should pay most attention to?
Jesus was in Jerusalem, in the week leading up to the crucifixion. Just a few days earlier, he had entered the city on the back of a donkey, and through the days since, he had been debating with the Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law.
You can see the various groups lining up to get their question in, to try to trick Jesus. To try to trap him with his words. Just before our reading, he had been debating with the Sadducees about the resurrection – the Sadducees being the very people who denied the resurrection!
And then, in the background, one individual, a teacher of the law, comes up to the edge of the crowd, listening in. Being impressed with Jesus’ good reply, he chimes in with the next question. The ‘big’ question for the legal and religious people of the day: ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’
You must remember that this debate had raged for years, with lots of different opinions. After all, there were over 600 individual commandments in the Books of the Law – which was most important? For Hillel, one such teacher of the law, his understanding was that ‘What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.’
So for Hillel, it seemed that the whole Law was concerned with person to person relations. But as we’ll see, Jesus’ answer is even more comprehensive than that. But how do we take the answer? What do we do about it? The words are so familiar – we need to be careful to hear them today afresh.
‘The most important one is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema – the daily prayer given by Moses.
For Jesus, this is the most important command in the Bible. But notice that it doesn’t start with the command – it doesn’t start with what we have to do. Rather, it starts with a statement about God. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Another version suggests that it could also mean ‘The Lord our God is our Lord alone’ – our God is the only God.
Based on this, connected to this, flowing from this statement about God, we are then commanded to respond to him in obedience. Our obedience doesn’t spring from a barren legalism based on necessity and duty – rather, it arises from a loving relationship, from the provision of the Covenant God.
And what is our response to our one and only God? Love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Jesus adds the extra category of the mind – but the point is the same – we are commanded to love God with every part of our being.
So what does it mean to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength? Loving God with our heart… The heart was the centre of the will and mind, and the seat of emotions for the Jewish world view. Loving God with our soul… The soul was seen as the centre of being, the source of life. Loving God with our mind… The mind is where your thoughts come from, so do your thoughts reflect love of God? Does what you think about show your love and obedience of God? Loving God with our strength… Your strength or might is your energy; the things you do. Does what you do and how you act show your love of God? Do you love God by what you do?
Taken together – does everything you do show your love of God? Both the things that others can see, as well as the hidden thoughts and desires? Are you committed to obeying and loving God in all of your being?
So, having thought about all that, you might be thinking that the man got quite a comprehensive answer. So much, indeed, much more is contained in the answer of Jesus than the man could have expected. And yet, he gets even more than he bargained for. Because Jesus hasn’t finished. It’s as if the man is getting a buy-one-get-one-free offer. He asked Jesus what the most important commandment was; Jesus answered. And then he continues: ‘The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Here, Jesus quotes Leviticus 19:18. Flowing on from God being our God, and being one; and our response of loving God with all our being, we are then commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves. This raises two questions – first, who is our neighbour, and then how do we love them?
Who is our neighbour? Hearing the full context of Leviticus 19:18 might suggest to us a narrow definition: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.’ ‘One of your people’ seems to be hinting at the people of Israel… But remember when Jesus was asked that question? The parable he responds with is that of the Good Samaritan – who demonstrated that the man’s neighbour was anyone.
So what does this mean for us, as we go about our daily lives? How can we love our neighbour as ourselves? It means that we should be treating others as we would want to be treated. Looking out for their needs, and putting their interests before our own. And not just the people we see around us in the pews. Our neighbour is whoever needs our help.
Someone might be thinking – if we’re called to love God first, and then second to love our neighbour – then how can that happen? If we direct all our attention to loving God, then how can we possibly love our neighbour as well? But the truth is that these two commandments are not contradictory, they’re not in competition. As we love God, so we also love other people – as we see the image of God in them, and put their needs first.
So there we have it, Jesus gives his summary of the Law – revealing the most important commandments. But what about the response? We’ll look first at the response of the man, and then think about our own response.
In some ways, the man’s response is surprising, and controversial. Remember as we hear his words that he is standing in Jerusalem, the holy city, with the Temple and its sacrifices.
‘Well said teacher. You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’
Can you see the significance of what Jesus has said, and what the man is saying? Loving God and neighbour is more important than the burnt offerings and sacrifices. In the very place where the sacrifices are offered, the sacrifices are declared to be not as important as loving God and neighbour.
But really, the Old Testament itself points to obedience being better than sacrifices. Think about King Saul, the first king of Israel. Why did God reject him as king? What had he done? If you have a Bible, turn over to 1 Samuel 15:22. God had commanded Saul to go and fight against the Amalekites, and utterly destroy everything – livestock as well as the people. Yet when Samuel the prophet came to the camp, he heard the sound of sheep and cattle, and saw the Amalekite king being held as prisoner. Saul tried to explain it away, saying that the livestock would be used to sacrifice to God in thanksgiving for the victory. But that wasn’t good enough for Samuel or God: ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’
So again, we find in Hosea: ‘For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings’ (Hosea 6:6). Jesus recognised that the man was ’not far from the kingdom of God’ – he had realised that the Jewish sacrifices wouldn’t make him ultimately right with God, but that God was looking for those who would love him.
So what about our response? How do we respond today to these challenging words? The command to love God with all we have, and to love our neighbour as ourself is not an easy one. Being realistic, we know we can’t do it by ourselves.
But Jesus has fulfilled these commands, as he fulfilled and completed the Law. As we trust in him, so we stand in Christ, and we become more like Jesus by the Spirit’s work in us. By ourselves, we can’t love God and others. But with the Spirit living and working in our hearts, we can do it more than we have.
So in the situations you are in tomorrow, how can you love God and love others? Mildred in Magheralin last Sunday was talking about ‘What Would Jesus Do’ – because Jesus perfectly loved God and loved others, we should ask ourselves – what would Jesus do in this situation?
Jesus has told us the two most important commandments – to love God, and to love our neighbour. In Matthew, we’re told that all the Law and Prophets hang (or depend) on these two commandments. This is the word of the Lord. Let us go and obey!
[It’s interesting to read at the end of the reading that ‘from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.’ Jesus had dealt with the trick questions and the difficult questions, and answered them perfectly. No one could trip him up. The sides were fixed. People were either for him, or against him. Where do you stand on Jesus? For, or against? ]
Friday, November 03, 2006
For mostly computer chat, but funny at the same time, check out Dave Lowry. Meanwhile, if it's sermons you're after, Bryan occasionally has some, and other inspiring thoughts can be found from Simon and Robert (and Robert again)...
To find about the experience of other ordinands, check out Stuart, Anderson and Simon.
For youthworkers, check out Dave who's now working down in Newry, who will hopefully get to update soon (!), and Martin.
And perhaps the most updated blog of the lot, check out Primrose's thoughts on life and mission in Kosova.
One more for now... and it's connected to my recent obsession with the Rapture etc... it's the slacktivist Left Behind blog, in which he systematically criticises the Left Behind books. Sadly he's only updating once a week on Fridays, so the 12 books of the series will take a while to get through, but it's worth reading for his thoughts on the books and the poor plot development etc...
Thursday, November 02, 2006
The second is the view of Narrow Water Castle, on the edge of the Lough:
And the final one is the view of Warrenpoint and the bend in the Lough, oh, and Narrow Water features too in the foreground. Even on such a windy day, the weather was clear and sunny allowing a good view!
Oh, and the next meeting of College Fellowship is on Tuesday night - Ron Elsdon looking at sound doctrine. Please pray for Clare and me as we organise CF, and everyone who comes along.